Thank you to @kidlitexchange and Viking Books for the preview copy of Payback on Poplar Lane. All opinions are my own.
I will admit that I tend to gravitate toward realistic fiction, historic fiction, and fantasy. But I also think that reading outside of you or comfort zone is important, which is why I encourage kids to participate in Battle of the Books style competitions. So, while I don’t typically read humorous fiction, I know a lot of kids who do and I wanted to expand my horizons. When I first read the description of Payback on Poplar Lane, it sounded like a fun book and one I was willing to test out. While I did not personally love the book, it was a very well written book that I can easily see a large group of middle grade readers enjoying.
ABC’s Shark Tank meets The Terrible Two when a pair of sixth grade entrepreneurs compete to become top mogul on their block.
Twelve-year-old Peter Gronkowski prides himself on being a professional businessman. Tired of the clichéd lemonade stands that line his block, he decides to start a better business with the help of an intern. But his intern of choice, the quiet and writerly Rachel Chambers, turns out to be more than he bargained for. Rachel is innovative, resourceful, driven–and when she’s had enough of Peter’s overbearing management style, she decides to start a competing empire next door. As their rivalry and sabotage tactics become more outrageous–Slander! Espionage! Lemonade threats!–Peter and Rachel ultimately learn the hard way that “nothing gold can stay” and that friendship is more important than money.
Alternating perspectives reveal what really motivates each character to win. And Peter’s memos and “business tips” as well as excerpts from Rachel’s melodramatic novel-in-progress generate fresh hilarity and tension at every page turn. Payback on Poplar Lane is a pitch-perfect comedy with heart, reminiscent of your favorite classic middle-grade series.
I’m giving the book a 4 star review because it was well written and I think that kids will love it. That said, this isn’t the style of book that I would personally gravitate towards. Just putting that out there.
This book was told in alternate 1st person voices between Peter Gronkowski and Rachel Chambers. Peter is an entrepreneur at heart and always out to find a new business that will make him the most amount of money, especially after his father loses his job. Rachel is a shy, bookish girl who people often fail to notice and who has the unfortunate nickname of “puppet” because others always talk for her, especially after a moment of stage-fright. Rachel decides to apply for the job of Peter’s intern and after a short stint, realizes that she is doing all of the work and getting no credit or payment. As the book shifts to being a war between the two business-people, the real meat of the story comes out.
The story alternates between the two characters and allows the reader to get a better sense of why they behave the way that they do. We see their inner workings and watch them change as the battle between businesses progresses. I took an immediate dislike to Peter, which I think is the author’s intent. Peter is completely focused on making money, regardless of who he steps on in order to succeed. Part of his drive to make something of himself comes from his frustration with the fact that his family is not quite as well off as those around him, especially after his father stops working. He is both put off by and embarrassed by generic brands and wants desperately to go to the private school that some of his friends go to.
At the same time, we also learn about Rachel. A shy girl who identifies with turtles and Cyrano de Bergerac (minus the big nose), she feels like a side-kick and afterthought to her best friend and decides to step up to be Peter’s intern. Rachel’s transformation starts much earlier then Peter’s, and perhaps that is why she seems more human. While working for Peter she realizes that she wants to matter and wants to be acknowledged, something that resounded with me. She gets swept up in the battle to stand out and be noticed and turns into a person she doesn’t like, willing to lie just to make a sale and be noticed.
There were times where I felt like I was getting emotional whiplash from the alternating voices, but I think that younger readers will feel less of that. While we seem to have fewer “neighborhoods” like the one described in the story, the cul-de-sac microcosm completely worked for this tale. Fans of The Lemonade War and The Candymakers will probably enjoy this comical story of kids trying to make a name for themselves and maybe some money at the same time.